Sarah Lantz is the primary benefactor of the Shelton College. She also teaches an English class for girls here at the school. This is a continuation of the transcript of the interview she gave to Shelton College Quarterly (“SCQ”) in August of 2014. There is some overlap between the first and second transcripts, to provide context.
SCQ: The question you’re going to get, though, I imagine, is “what is the alternative?” I mean, what do these women – this class of women – have to choose from, realistically?
Mrs. Lantz: The world changes with every decision, with every word spoken. The woman who stays clear of the violent or lazy man changes the world. Saying no does not mean the end of the world. They have to believe that. You know, now that I think of it, Lizzy Bennett says “no” the first time. In the face of otherwise potentially dire consequences. She says no to Darcy and that changed the world.
SCQ: Well. It changed the world in the book.
Mrs. Lantz: (Laughing) Excuse me. But you’re not saying that the book hasn’t changed the world, are you?
SCQ: Okay. Okay.
Mrs. Lantz: What is it that they say? “Come on, man.”
SCQ: You seem very confident about the efficacy of the class. What leads you to believe it’s having an effect?
Mrs. Lantz: The girls are flourishing. They’re as much in love with the class as I am. The difference between now and our first session together is amazing. They all contribute, now. They are all getting it. I can see their confidence growing.
SCQ: How many lucky girls are in your class?
Mrs. Lantz: I have ten.
SCQ: What are their ages?
Mrs. Lantz: It’s a range from twelve to sixteen.
SCQ: So, it’s really a high-school course, then?
Mrs. Lantz: It’s really an English course. You know we have no accreditation, anywhere.
SCQ: So, what do your students get from their work, then?
Mrs. Lantz: An education.
SCQ: That’s fine, and I think we understand your point, but it brings us back to the first question: Why Shelton College? Why all that money? Couldn’t you have done exactly the same thing in your home – like Azi Nafisi did in Tehran? Saved yourself a ton of money?
Mrs. Lantz: Yes and no. Of course I could have had the girls come to my house, and we’d have had a great time of it. But you have to think of the value of institutions.
SCQ: Like marriage?
Mrs. Lantz: Exactly. And like this college. Do you know what I think the girls love most about coming to class?
SCQ: Please, go on.
Mrs. Lantz: The view. The original founders of this place made lots of mistakes, obviously. But one thing they got right was location and architecture. The view from the front rooms in the college is unlike anything else in our town. The founders got the very best spot in the city. You look out of those tall, arched windows and over the line of hemlocks surrounding the campus and see the little town from just the right distance. The stores and houses and streets and churches look ideal, dreamlike. It’s the one vantage point in the whole valley where you can actually see both rivers coming together. We meet at eight-thirty and lots of mornings there is still a mist below us, sometimes following the little river. Then there are days when the sunlight sparkles on the rivers. Did you know that on sunny days the Walhonde is green and the Kanawha is blue? It’s almost magical. I could start a new theme here. The problem with today’s city dwellers is that they have no view.
SCQ: There are lots of folks who would argue that you’ve paid way too much, just for a view.
Mrs. Lantz: Let me quote Butch Cassidy here: ‘It’s a small price to pay for beauty.’ This place where we live has incredible beauty, and it is largely ignored and unappreciated. Everybody wants to be somewhere else. I’ll tell you, when my girls are in my class and we’re sitting in that high-ceilinged room, looking out over creation and civilization, they are right where they want to be. Empty places are being filled.
SCQ: Your argument isn’t lost on us, but there must be more to it than just a pretty view.
Mrs. Lantz: Of course there is. There is the stimulation of the community of scholars. Colleges were originally groups of colleagues. They were collegial communities. That spirit has already started to take hold here. I’m a better teacher because of it. A better person, even. I’m eighty-one years old, lived a very full life – a privileged life – and yet I have never been more excited about my days.
SCQ: Give examples, please.
Mrs. Lantz: The galleries. The photographs in the second hallway are a revelation. All taken in Saint Albans. Houses, gardens, street scenes, porches, fallow land, vistas. They show us another way to look at this little place we are privileged to inhabit. Another way too look at the world, really. I hear that the school has been flooded with them, lots of them very good. I would never have imagined this, otherwise.
SCQ: That’s true. I don’t know what we’ll do with them all.
Mrs. Lantz: The watercolors in the combination room. All by local artists. All of local scenes. And music. Did you know that there will be massed choirs on the lawn at Christmas? From the churches in town. What a scene that will be.